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House sit-in

Scores of Democratic lawmakers, led by civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, refuse to leave the U.S. House of Representatives until gun control measures are passed

Free Press staff, wire reports | 6/24/2016, 8:47 a.m.
Democratic lawmakers, using 1960s tactics to press their point, staged an surprise sit-in on the floor of the U.S. House ...
Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts tweeted a photo from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday showing the sit-in demanding common sense gun control legislation to keep suspected terrorists from buying guns and tightening background checks. Sitting on the floor in the center is Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who led the historic action. Photo by Reuters

Democratic lawmakers, using 1960s tactics to press their point, staged an surprise sit-in on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, demanding the chamber remain in session until the Republican leadership agrees to a vote on gun control legislation.

Nearly 200 legislators, including several members of the Senate, joined in the protest led by Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement and one of the original Freedom Riders who led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, student sit-ins and voter registration drives throughout the South that paved the way for the historic Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama in 1965.

Chanting “No bill, no break!” the lawmakers disrupted the House session and occupied the floor of the chamber. Photos of the action were sent via Instagram, Twitter and other social media alerting the public, even after the House cameras that broadcast the sessions were turned off.

“We have been too quiet for too long,” Rep. Lewis told his colleagues. “We will be silent no more.”

Democrats urged passage of gun control measures, such as tighter background checks and legislation to curb the sale of weapons to people on government watch lists.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters members intend to continue their sit-in as long as it takes to get a vote on a bill.

The move echoed last week’s filibuster by Senate Democrats to protest inaction on guns in the wake of the June 12 massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, who represents Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, joined the sit-in, calling on Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP lawmakers to allow an immediate vote to keep guns out of dangerous hands.

“Our message is clear,” Rep. Scott said through a spokesman. “It’s not going to be business as usual. We’re committed to continue this effort until the people’s House does its job.”

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus stood in unity with Rep. Lewis, calling the action historic.

“Congress can no longer simply hold moments of silence for the victims of gun violence,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, chairman of the CBC. “We must act, and we will not leave the House floor or Washington without taking action to prevent the next tragedy.”

A number of Democratic senators joined the protest, including Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who remains in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Corey Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, all of whom have been mentioned as potential running mates for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

While many people called the House sit-in unprecedented, a similar action happened in August 2008, when House Republicans, then in the minority, took the floor to demand a vote on allowing offshore drilling.

After last week’s Senate filibuster, the Senate’s Republican majority scheduled votes on four gun control measures — all of which failed Monday.